Why has Dilbert been one of our country’s most popular cartoons? Maybe one reason is how well it shows us the “challenge” of communication in big companies. Big corporations have some advantages over smaller businesses (such as financial resources and brand awareness), but small businesses have a number of key advantages, one of which is simpler communication.

The bottom line is that the more people you have to communicate with, the number of possible interactions increases geometrically. Consider this amazing information:

• 3 people = 3 possible different communications

• 25 people = 300 possible different communications = 8x more people = 100x increase in communications complexity

• 50 people = 1,225 possible different communications = 17x more people = 408x increase in communications complexity!

• 100 people = 4950 possible different communications = 33x more people = 1,650x increase in communications complexity!!

• 1,000 people = 499,500 possible different communications = 333x more people = 166,500x increase in communications complexity!!!

(Source: Six Discipline of Excellence by Gary Harpst)

In other words, when there are three people in an organization, there are three possible communication combinations (persons A + B, A + C, B + C).

In a 25 person organization there is an 8-fold increase in the number of people but a 100–fold increase in the communications combinations.

In a 100 person organization is 33 times the size of a 3-person organization but 1650 times more complex from a communications perspective.

Bigger businesses try to handle this complexity by creating layers, divisions and departments. Yet we know from how we sometimes laugh at Dilbert how ineffective most of these are.

In smaller business or organizations, problems and opportunities can be communicated much more quickly and decisions can be made. You’re more flexible and can adapt to market changes much more quickly. Good communication is at the heart of successful business.

To maximize your small business/organization communication advantage, make sure to follow these simple guidelines:

• Stick to observable facts and stay away from evaluation or diagnosis. Example: Say “You didn’t bring me the report by last Friday.” Instead of “You blew off the deadline for the report and totally screwed up!”

• Stay away from extreme language and don’t use words like “always,” “never,” “usually,” or “most of the time.”

• Avoid judgmental words like manipulated, ignored, put down, blown off, misled, left hanging, etc.

• Focus on solutions by stating clearly and simply what you want the person to do.

Good communication takes practice, so go easy on yourself and don’t expect perfection right out of the gates.


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